Lupin, one of Netflix’s most recent additions, is about a gentleman thief called Assane Diop played by the charismatic Omar Sy. His crimes mimic those of Arsène Lupin, from the short story collection by Maurice Leblanc about a fictional gentleman thief whose crimes had style. However, Assane doesn’t just steal priceless jewellery. He manipulates the classist-racist system and the characters around him to get what he wants. And the characters are not the only ones being played; the audience are being tested too.

Warning, spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.

The first episode shows Assane with money problems, to say the least. Firstly, he works as a janitor at the Louvre — a profession not known for its large paychecks. Over a morning coffee with his ex-wife, he remarks on how he hasn’t been paying alimony. And to top it all off, he doesn’t have the money to pay back his loan shark, resulting in a life-threatening situation involving a balcony. So he concocts a plan for all of them to become millionaires. The plan is simple enough: steal a long-lost necklace that once belonged to Marie Antoinette that is about to be auctioned at the Louvre.

The plan’s specifics artfully involve the loan shark and his accomplices entering the Louvre as janitors while Assane pretends to be a multi-millionaire entrepreneur bidding on the necklace. As the heist unfolds, Assane and two other thieves find themselves in the safe room where the necklace is being held, alongside its auctioneer. To get away, Assane’s accomplices beat up the auctioneer as well as Assane (to maintain appearances), seemingly leaving with the necklace. But they get caught during their daring escape.

What is later revealed is that Assane orchestrated the robbery to be a failure. The thieves only have a replica of the necklace. During the beating, he artfully switches the necklace, placing it in a bin which he later empties with perfect ease as the museum’s janitor. Clearly there’s more to this man. Assane is not the poor wretch we thought he was, but a mastermind thief who lives in luxury in one of Paris’ most expensive areas. The janitor position was a pretence to gain access to the Louvre and its secrets.

What makes Assane’s tactics interesting is the way he uses class and racial dynamics as part of his heist. The reason his accomplices impersonate janitors is because of how invisible they are in our society. When the auctioneer remarks on the fact that he didn’t expect Assene to buy such a necklace, Assene questions him on this. The auctioneer gives a haphazard answer, remarking on his youth instead of his race. Of course Assane is fully aware of the true answer. He only asked to make the man uneasy.

The trick

The ingenuity of the first episode lies in the framing of the storytelling.

Throughout the episode, Assene uses the characters’ biases against them. The Senegalese manager at the Louvre gives him the janitor job based on their shared heritage. The petty criminals he manipulates into helping him steal the necklace based on their perception of him as a down-and-out black man. Even the detective who arrives at the Louvre quickly casts his suspicious eye on Assane because of his skin colour — despite the fact that he bought the necklace and was just robbed of it. But Assane expects these cliches and uses them to his advantage.

The writers equally use the audience’s preexisting biases against them. We expect a character like Assane — son of an immigrant Senegalese father who went to prison — to be poor and stuck, in what seems to be his latest dead-end job. We simply don’t question this narrative when it’s presented to us. That’s why Assane knows that nobody will give a second look to the janitors; they’re just janitors. And we the audience likewise don’t take a second look at Assane for being a janitor. Even during the auction, when he exhibits great skill in having created an online persona of a multi-millionaire businessman, we don’t bat an eyelid. Not until, that is, we discover that this so-called janitor resides in a Montmartre apartment with a view of the Sacré-Cœur.

Suddenly, we realise. Not only did Assane use the biases of the characters to outsmart them, but the writers have used our biases to dupe us.

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